291 – Unpacking the Complexities of Coercion, with Jamie Manirakiza

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Sandie Morgan is joined by Adjunct Professor for the Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate and Executive Director of PEHT in Connecticut, Jamie Manirakiza. In this episode, they discuss how coercion is used in human trafficking cases and how direct service providers and front line responders can provide trauma-informed, survivor-centered aftercare.

Jamie Manirakiza, LMSW

Jamie Manirakiza, has over 10 years of experience in the field of anti-human trafficking. As the Executive Director of Partnership to End Human Trafficking, she brings her experience working in various roles throughout the Northeast. Prior to joining PEHT, Jamie, held several key roles with The Salvation Army. Her longest position was in Greater Philadelphia as Director of Anti Trafficking for the New Day to Stop Trafficking Program. Most notably, Jamie helped to start a drop-in center for women victimized by the commercial sex industry in 2010, incorporating models of harm reduction, motivational interviewing, and the Sanctuary Model ® for trauma-informed care. Jamie was also part of the founding team to open up a residential program for survivors of sex or labor trafficking in the Greater Philadelphia region. In 2018, Jamie transitioned to work as the Territorial Anti Human Trafficking Program Coordinator for The Salvation Army Eastern Territorial Headquarters in New York. As Territorial Anti Human Trafficking Program Coordinator, she developed, implemented, evaluated, and supported the ongoing growth of direct survivor service programs and coalition building on a regional scale. She has managed numerous Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crimes grants to provide comprehensive victim services in various States across the Northeast. Jamie has consulted for Tahirih Justice Center, and provided training as a consultant for OVC-TTAC.  Jamie continues to serve as an adjunct professor for Vanguard University’s Human Trafficking Certificate Program and has consulted on crime victim services for a number of national organizations on promising practices and trauma-informed care. Jamie is a founding Board of Advisor member for the Villanova University School of Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation. Jamie received her MSW degree from the University of Pennsylvania and is a licensed social worker.

Key Points

  • Trauma-informed, survivor centered care and services is built on understanding power dynamics between caregivers and victim-survivors.
  • Coercion in based on psychological and non-physical tactics used by traffickers/abusers against an individual.
  • Self-identification from trafficking victims is difficult due to the coercion experienced and trauma-bonding.
  • When providing any type of service, it is important to not overpromise or under-deliver.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 291 Unpacking the Complexities of Coercion, with Jamie Manirakiza. 

Production Credits [00:00:11] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential. 

Dave [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak. 

Sandie [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan. 

Dave [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, we have another guest expert with us today, a wonderful partner in our work, one of our instructors with the Ending Human Trafficking Certificate Program and someone who just has a tremendous amount of expertise. I’m so glad to welcome Jamie Manirakiza. She has over ten years of experience in the field of anti-human trafficking as the executive director of Partnership to End Human Trafficking. She brings her experience working in various roles throughout the Northeast. Jamie joined PEHT as the executive director in July 2020 to establish one of Connecticut’s first residential programs for survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. As executive director, Jamie has helped to establish a 24 month residential program and relaunch a survivor led social enterprise business, providing employment opportunities for women who have experienced human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, or sexual violence. In addition to her past experience with several key roles with the Salvation Army, she also continues to serve as an adjunct professor for Vanguard University’s Human Trafficking Certificate program and has consulted on crime victim services for a number of national organizations. Jamie received her MSW degree from the University of Pennsylvania and is a licensed social worker. Jamie, so glad to have you on the show. 

Jamie [00:02:01] Thank you for having me. 

Sandie [00:02:03] I’m really excited about interviewing you because you are one of our expert practitioners in the Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate Program and it is so valuable to have people who are actually practitioners leading the discussions in our online conversations in the virtual classroom. And I had conversations recently with a couple of students who were absolutely so energized by being in a cohort online with practitioners who were not asking hypothetical questions. They were asking, ‘This is what happened? How are you guys figuring this out where you are?’ And that is what our movement needs. We are in a time where we’re establishing best practices, promising practices. We’re trying to work out the best victim-centered approach. We want the best outcomes for victims as they become survivors. So thank you so much for joining us. And let’s dive in and tell us a little bit about your work as a practitioner and more specifically, the model that you base your work on. 

Jamie [00:03:33] Great. Well, thank you, Sandie, for that introduction. And I too have just loved aduncting for the certificate program and engaging with professionals and students all across the country and world. It’s truly a pleasure for me each year when I look at the cohort and get to talk to all of the students coming to the program into the field. So I have, as you mentioned, I’ve worked in the field of anti-trafficking for a little over a decade. Most of my experience prior to joining Partnership to End Human Trafficking, I worked in Philadelphia and I worked on a number of services. But the theme throughout my career in doing this work has really been trying to establish trauma-informed, survivor-centered care services across disciplines, across programing and policies and staffing so that we can minimize any forms of re-traumatization in the service delivery process as survivors enter our systems so that we can truly try to be the change for folks seeking to exit exploitation and harm with doing the least amount of harm on our end as practitioners. So a lot of the work that I do is based on the sanctuary model for trauma-informed care, tenants of motivational interviewing, and harm reduction. 

Sandie [00:04:57] Okay, so when I look at various definitions of trauma-informed care, there is always a sense that I can make a big mistake and cause harm. And so I walk very carefully and I really am encouraged by looking at this through the lens of power and control, because I think that if we as practitioners understand that it’s not just what we say, it is how we say it, where we’re standing. Recognizing that we have the resources that somebody needs and that that actually is a form of power. And this concept of power and control is something we studied extensively in the domestic violence movement. And it’s becoming more and more a part of our conversation as we modify how we engage with victims who are on the journey to restoration. And one of the things that power and control contribute to is the concept of coercion. And when I first started studying the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that was passed back in 2000, coercion was an element and still is in the legal definition of the elements that we have to prove in a prosecution of force, fraud and coercion. And everybody was really clear about force and fairly clear about fraud. Coercion, though, was often not nearly as clear. And it didn’t often get as much of the attention as it may have deserved. In your experience, can you give us a little bit of a breakdown in how often is coercion used compared to the more easy to identify force and fraud? 

Jamie [00:07:14] Yeah. So coercion, in my experience in working with survivors over a decade now, is the primary form of control that’s used in the three elements of force, fraud and coercion. And unfortunately, as you’ve mentioned as well, it’s more complex sometimes to identify, a bit more nuanced to see, especially to law enforcement or service providers, because it is not always physical in nature in terms of how the traffickers leverage coercive methods. So psychological conditioning, manipulation. And maybe we’ll get into unpacking some of that a little bit later. But these elements we’ve seen predominate the sex trafficking and often even labor trafficking cases. 

Sandie [00:08:04] Okay. So coercion, sometimes people just use the synonym threats, but it feels like you’re talking about psychological manipulation. It sounds a little more than just a threat. So can you unpack that for us and maybe give us some examples? 

Jamie [00:08:24] Sure. You know, the definition of coercion in the TVPA, as we know, says that its the threats of serious harm to or physical restraint against any person. It also includes any scheme, plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that the failure to perform an act would result in serious harm or physical restraint against any person, as well as, the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process. So what does all of that mean? Often, examples that I can give that we see are and I’ll kind of back into it: threatened abuse of the legal process. With foreign born individuals, we’ll often see the threat of deportation, the threat of having somebody detained or even jailed. We had a case that I worked on where an individual was asking for back wages and pay from their employer who was trafficking them in a landscaping practice. And the employer said that if you continue to ask, I’m going to call the police and they actually did do that and the employer made false claims to the police about this individual. And it resulted in a lot of complicated criminal matters that this person had to then sort of prove their innocence by. And it ended up being used actually by really great legal attorneys to support that victim in their case of labor trafficking. That the employer, in fact, used the abuse or threatened the abuse of the legal process as a way of controlling and silencing the voice of that person. 

Sandie [00:10:02] They actually called the police and they’re the perpetrators. 

Jamie [00:10:06] Exactly. Yes. And that very essence ended up being used against them later as the case was successfully built. I found an attorney. And we got pulled in as service providers back at the time to support this individual in their court mandated programing to restore the process of which they had to do some courses and prove that they completed some diversion process simply to be able to clean up the record while their attorneys were able to get more facts of the case, more elements of coercion that weren’t seen to the naked eye, like the threats, the serious threats of harm or actual harm. Sometimes you see both. So in a lot of sex trafficking cases, we see traffickers threaten serious harm to their victims. So showing a deadly weapon to the victim, maybe a gun, and saying if you don’t do X, Y, and Z, then you know something’s going to happen to you. They may never shoot that individual in that moment. I mean, or maybe ever. But the serious threat of harm is clear. I had an individual once tell me that exact case, that their trafficker, their pimp, put a gun out and said, this is what you’re going to do. And the survivor explained, Well, what was I supposed to do? If I walked out of the door or out of the hotel that night who would have believed me? Who would I go to? Who would have believed me? They were under-resourced. They were in a marginalized community. And they really felt like they didn’t have anybody they could turn to. And they also had a sense of the victim blaming because of their traffickers use of coercive elements of psychological coercion. So there was there’s a lot tied in there about the person felt that they could not just leave and be believed. 

Sandie [00:11:53] Wow. So let’s unpack that psychological coercion that you just mentioned a little further. 

Jamie [00:12:00] Yeah. So we’ve seen there’s a great chart called Biderman’s Chart of Coercion that actually outlines eight elements of coercive control. And interestingly, almost all of those elements of coercive control are psychological or nonphysical in nature. And they include things like isolation, monopolization of perception, threats–which we’ve talked about, which sort of cultivate anxiety and despair or fear. Occasional indulgences, so maybe trying to positively motivate the individuals, victims, so maybe buying clothing for them, maybe sending money to their family or giving them money to give to siblings who they’re taking care of. We’ve seen that. And giving them a sense that you’re part of this. Or you’re making a choice. And in some regards, you’re part of the culpability of the crime, telling the victim that it’s their fault for the situation that they might be in or really leveraging whatever forms of psychological control that the trafficker identifies is going to be a weak point or a point that they can sort of identify and then exploit. And so degradation, demonstrating omnipotence are really all elements that we may see at various points in the conditioning and building up of coercive control from a trafficker. 

Sandie [00:13:27] So when you’re talking about that, I keep going back to my early days in domestic violence and understanding that the abuser did cultivate that trauma-bond through occasional indulgences, new clothes, special food, those kinds of things, but then went back to abusive. And it seems like this is a similar pattern. 

Jamie [00:13:58] Yes. I mean, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of overlap in the inter-partner violence, domestic violence world when it comes to some of the tactics. And then, of course, there’s some distinctions that I think we see with sex trafficking cases that tend to sort of deviate some of the challenges, especially when it comes to providing service with individuals who experience this crime versus domestic violence. And sometimes there’s overlap, though, right? Sometimes there are domestic violence cases that turn into sex trafficking or domestic servitude cases. Those similar elements are also used: the occasional indulgences with, like you said, food, clothing, sort of finding whatever that area that might make somebody feel worthy or feel loved and exploiting that to make them form a trauma bond, both the fear of maybe harm or even death, but then the gratitude for being allowed to live or being provided for. So that sort of forms that cycle of the trauma bond. And I have seen it a lot in trafficking cases. 

Sandie [00:15:04] Okay. So one of the words that you gave us in the definition was patterns. We just talked about that. But you also use the word schemes and that implies an actual plan to exploit someone. An actual strategy for tactics of what you’ll use. So how does a trafficker figure out that scheme? Identify weak spots? Kind of unpack that for us. 

Jamie [00:15:40] It may look different for different individuals, is often what I’ve seen throughout the years. And I think that that also speaks to why services are so important in terms of how we understand the crime, that when we’re going to serve individuals, knowing the ways that they may uniquely have been exploited in each circumstance. It’s not always the same pattern used, but some patterns that I’ve seen that I could kind of highlight as common would be identifying maybe areas where the individual feels unsafe or either feels unsafe or is actually unsafe. So somebody who may be homeless or vulnerable to being homeless or a runaway. When we think about young people, runaway and homeless youth are very high risk for commercial sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, labor trafficking situations. Individuals who have experience or could be experiencing abuse in their home or from a partner, and they’re fleeing that situation and looking for safety. So the trafficker might pose as somebody who can provide that for them. Also, other vulnerabilities of maybe being bullied, wanting to be loved, wanting to fit in and sort of identifying that area of vulnerability. And through the recruitment process into exploitation, the trafficker, a perpetrator, is identifying those sweet spots and sort of trying to just show the person that they can fulfill that or they can meet that need and then switching it out and saying, well, now you need to do this as part of the deal or the game or this is how we’re going to build our future together, telling them whatever dream is going to keep them under their control. 

Sandie [00:17:28] I absolutely remember hearing from a survivor, and we all need to listen to survivors because they teach us the patterns to watch for, the schemes and they’re varied and they’re very individualized. So when I sat and talked to a survivor who told me when she first met her trafficker, how kind they were, gave her food, sat and just asked questions and listened and nobody else was listening to her. And as a young person, she found that very endearing and it created a bond. But she then said, and this is what I wrote down, that everything she told him he used against her, he used to manipulate and found things in her past, concerns about a parent or a sibling and brought those up in the conversation when she wasn’t behaving the way that the perpetrator expected. And I think victims often don’t even realize that they’re being controlled by their own words. And the way that the traffickers have learned to use what looks like, I really care because what do they teach you in marriage counseling? Listening is the best thing to do. Well, it’s also a way to find out someone’s weaknesses. So do you feel like you’ve seen survivors who didn’t really realize that they were being controlled and didn’t know how to didn’t even want to seem to walk away to escape? 

Jamie [00:19:32] Absolutely. And I think that’s sort of the crux of the challenge, too, in terms of identifying individuals as a victim of this crime and thats been a discussion, I think we’ve all had nationally and internationally for decades is recognizing that there’s a huge challenge of trafficking, but individuals almost never self-identify. And oftentimes that is because of the element of coercion and coercive control, which has built up as as we’ve talked about, the trauma bonding, rapport and relationship. Often there’s an element of loyalty, and that’s often been cultivated by this sense of either a boyfriend relationship, a husband or fiance relationship. It could also be intra-familial trafficking, as we’ve seen. Sometimes somebody’s first trafficker might have been a parent, a step-parent, an aunt or an uncle, somebody known to the individual. And that creates a really confusing psychological situation for a victim of this crime, especially if the first introduction of their abuse is by somebody who they should have trusted and almost should have been the person that they would have reported this form of victimization to. So that cultivates this situation whereby the people don’t self-identify and it may take a very long time for them to understand the elements of control or manipulation that were wrong and caused serious harm to them. 

Sandie [00:21:10] So I think what you’re describing with a trusted original trafficker, there are lots of instances of serial trafficking. They leave one because their trust was broken. And so then they become victims really of betrayal trauma. And so they’re looking for someone to trust. And I think we are sometimes oblivious to that betrayal trust element. And when we arrive on the scene and we want to fix everything, how should we actually be having that conversation? Because when we overpromise and under-deliver, it reinforces that betrayal. 

Jamie [00:22:02] Yeah. So right before I answer that, you made me think of a situation where years ago I was working with a survivor who was part of a federal prosecution. She had been victimized since she was a minor. At the time in which the prosecution was happening, she was a young adult. And I remember distinctly one conversation where the individual was wrestling between lots of threats in the community. Because the trafficker might be, if we’re lucky, locked up or pending trial or being charged for some elements of the crime. But there’s still often many bad actors that are still out in the community and perpetrators that are connected to the trafficking of that individual. And they may be still cultivating threats or carrying out any forms of serious threats to victims to keep them quiet or back in the life or to bring them back. And this individual said to me she was wrestling with who to trust because the trafficker was saying, oh, they’re just going to drop you once the trials over, or they don’t really care about you, we’re your family. We’re going to take care of you. Don’t talk to them, don’t collaborate. And I don’t say any of this to say that victims service providers or advocates should ever push a victim to participate. So, the lane that I was in as a social worker and clinician was to really just support this individual in whatever their self-determined choice was, as well as to support their livelihood, their basic needs, getting them access to resources, to housing, to food, to shelter, and really trying to help support this individual, to realize that these are the areas in which we can and very feasibly can support youth to be safe and to get access. But these are the areas where we can’t necessarily promise the world. So the individual was wrestling with how are we going to make sure that nobody can ever find me? And although there’s lots of great ways to support individuals and we should maximize those for their safety and safety plan, I like how you said that, Sandie, just that we don’t ever want to overcommit and under-deliver because that does sort of fulfill that self-fulfilling prophecy that the perpetrators are often using to keep their individuals coming back to them or avoiding getting out and trusting providers to help them. 

Sandie [00:24:33] So if you could lay out a plan for a social worker or law enforcement who has identified someone who needs to leave and maybe has even tried before, and now we recognize that our little fantasy of escape, we just get them in the car and take them away is not necessarily going to be a real rescue. It’s going to take time. So where do we start with that? 

Jamie [00:25:08] There’s so much that we can unpack, but I think if I was to really focus on areas that we’ve learned just as an ally in the field working alongside survivors for for so long and working alongside survivor-led leadership and what survivors have shared that would help them or help them when they were trying to leave. And our programing is identifying ways to maximize choice for individuals as they are coming into any form of services to the extent that you can. And that’s going to look different for law enforcement settings versus maybe social service settings, but maximizing choice, maximizing opportunities for folks who have autonomy and their self-determination and individualized goals, recognizing that not all goal plans at the time in which they might first step, second steps, third step may not play out the same for everybody and giving them that space to identify their change process. And maximizing opportunities for folks to, within the boundaries of safety, to kind of go through the process of relapse and cycles. In the program that I oversee now in Connecticut, we are a 24 month housing program. We provide opportunities for in-house employment and job training. And we also do community based intensive services for folks who we cannot house. And in all of those programs, we sort of integrate those values of trauma-informed care, choice, autonomy and sort of self-determination in the change process and allowing for relapse to be part of that process, whether it’s substances or unsafe patterns. But to allow that to be part of the dialogue is important so that folks can work through and identify real and authentic change for themselves and authentic healing for themselves. 

Sandie [00:26:59] Okay. So now then our time is almost up and you’ve just opened another can of worms. And I am intrigued to figure out how you actually program room for relapse. And so we’re going to have to promise our listeners that we’re going to unpack that next time we talk. 

Jamie [00:27:23] Great. Absolutely. It’s so important. 

Sandie [00:27:27] And the idea of maximizing choice and that personal dignity that it can start in really simple ways. When I was the task force administrator, our victim service provider lead often would take brand new survivors to a shop so that they could pick out the clothes, the toiletries that they wanted instead of just being given a backpack with whatever people happened to have given, but actually providing choice. And you don’t just have to take what we give you, you get to choose. And that’s kind of a beginning step sometimes for realizing that there is a process to move towards autonomy and personal safety that results in a restoration and reintegration into our community. 

Jamie [00:28:30] Absolutely. And I mean, just to tie it back to our theme of coercion and coercive control, I mean, that’s if that’s the nature of the element of the crime. One of the elements that forced somebody to endure their victimization for whatever period of time, then it sort of only makes sense that on the behavioral health, the service system side, the continuum that we find a way to not sort of create those parallel process dynamics where we’re mirroring those same power and control dynamics that were happening in the life, but that we find a way to say what could be power and control dynamics that we hold as the system that we can change. So we don’t mirror that same dynamic for this person in their healing process so that it can look different and they can see that there’s a different way to engage and interact with the world in themselves and their identity. 

Sandie [00:29:29] Wow. That is unpacking and reversing coercion choice. We have to maximize choice. What a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Jamie. And I am so grateful that you’re on our Vanguard team teaching in the Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate Program. 

Jamie [00:29:49] Thank you. I love to be a part of it. 

Dave [00:29:52] Thank you both for this conversation today. If today’s dialogue has brought up some questions for you, I’d invite you to send us a message feedback@endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s a great place to reach us with comments or questions about this conversation or of course, any of the episodes we’ve had. We’d also invite you to take a moment to go onto our website at endinghumantrafficking.org. That is a great place to start to download a copy of Sandie’s guide The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’ll walk you through the five critical things that Sandie has discovered in her work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can get access to it by visiting endinghumantrafficking.org. And while you’re online, take a few minutes to learn about the next Ensure Justice conference coming up March 3rd and 4th, 2023. Details are at the site there or you can go directly to GCWJ.org/ensurejustice. I hope you’ll join us for our conversation here in March live in Southern California. Tons of resources, speakers, events and of course, most importantly, relationships. We talk about the importance of partnerships so often in our conversations, our partnership with Jamie and so many others who are just doing incredible work on this issue. So hope you’ll join us for the conference again. GCWJ.org/ensurejustice for details about this year’s conference and we’ll be back in two weeks for our next conversation. Thanks as always, Sandie. 

Sandie [00:31:27] Thanks, Dave. 

Dave [00:31:28] Take care everyone. 

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